The preseason is over and the Oregon offense looks to continue their fast starts against a rebuilt Arizona Wildcats defense. Arizona is receiving much early praise for their improved play, and much of that is due to the prowess on the offensive end. The defense, despite a shutout of South Carolina State last weekend, remains the biggest question on the Arizona team. Rich Rodriguez bemoaned the lack of depth on that side of the football in the offseason, and the fact that they gave up over 600 yards to Oklahoma State didn't exactly do a lot to quell fears about that unit, despite the unexpected Wildcat win (fueled by four Cowboy turnovers).
Oregon to point has had no problem shredding defenses, getting out to massive early leads by stringing together touchdown drives for several consecutive possessions at the beginning of all their games. Obviously, Arizona provides a more talented challenge than what the Ducks have faced so far, but there are many reasons to be confident in the Ducks' matchup against the Arizona defense on Saturday.
For those of you who listened to Matt during our podcast this week, this won't be new. Arizona runs a 3-3-5, a defense that has become popular at the high school and college level specifically to counter the rise of the spread offense. By removing somebody from the defensive front and putting that person in the defensive backfield, you are giving your defense more time to react, and putting a faster, more athletic player on the field to cover an extra receiver or get to the spots that the spread offense challenges you to cover. This works especially well against traditional spread attacks with several receivers trying to stretch the field vertically. This is why Oklahoma State ultimately lost even though they put up big yards-the extra help in the secondary allowed Arizona to get turnovers against the Cowboy vertical passing attack.
The weakness, of course, is up the middle, and you can see this kind of defense struggle with a more pro-style offense that wants to play smash mouth, ultimately forcing the extra safety into the box to serve as an undersized linebacker. The advantage that Oregon has over the traditional spread team is that they are run based, and can often be very power run based. The power and the inside zone read are staples of the Oregon offense, and the Ducks have a physical offensive line that can win the line of scrimmage.
So the game plan for the Ducks is to not be lured into the vertical spread passing that the 3-3-5 is designed to stop and get turnovers against. Oregon wants to get the linebackers moving, then bust it up the middle. You'll see a slew of quick plays on the edge that are traditional Chip Kelly staples-bubble screens, tunnel screens, quick outs. Get those linebackers and safeties moving around the field, then start busting inside zone reads up the gut of the defense. They're putting themselves in a position to have safeties needing to make open field tackles against DeAnthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, a proposition with which Duck fans should be very comfortable.
The other factor is Oregon's pace. Arizona has little defensive depth, so you add this strategy of getting the linebackers guessing inside or outside and moving around to the Ducks' pace and the physical play of the offensive line, and it makes for very tired Wildcat defenders by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Should the game be close, we know what Oregon's offense does against very tired defenders.